More than 300 Northern Va. victims in less than three years
WTOP's Kathy Stewart reports
WASHINGTON -- The reality is that sex trafficking of teens is taking place in the D.C. area. But the Northern Virginia Task Force, which battles human trafficking. has received a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to tackle it.
"One of the biggest problems we see here in Northern Virginia is sex trafficking of children," says Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, adding that the perpetrators are sometimes pimps but mainly gangs.
"Human trafficking is the fastest-growing crime in the world," he says. It is a multi-billion dollar industry and one that is difficult to get out of if you are a victim since the victims, and sometimes their families, are threatened if the victim wants to leave.
Cuccinelli says the traffickers feed on the vulnerable and that the victims come from all backgrounds.
The Northern Virginia Task Force is made up of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. Half of the two-year grant will go to the Fairfax County Police Department for a Human Trafficking Unit to oversee the task force.
The rest of the grant goes to the Polaris Project, the victim services partner. The Polaris Project is a world leader in fighting human trafficking, ensuring that victims have the services they need while they're on the path to healing and recovery. According to the Polaris Project, some of the traffickers brand their victims with tattoos showing ownership.
The Polaris Project is named after Polaris, the North Star, which guided slaves along the Underground Railroad. Bradley Myles, the non-profit's CEO, says human trafficking is much more prevalent than people think. He says people in the D.C. area often think human trafficking only happens in faraway countries.
"Traffickers count on the community not doing something about it," Myles says.
Traffickers are banking on this being a high-profit, low-risk crime and that's why human trafficking is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the world, he says. But he says the task force is going to turn that equation on its head to make this a high-risk crime and hopefully put traffickers out of business.
Myles also says the Polaris Project helps to build stronger laws against human trafficking across the country. It operates the National Human Trafficking Hotline (1-888-373-7888) which is open 24/7 and is toll-free. It's for victims or community members if they have a tip or for general information.
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